Martin Luther King Jr. “Speak-In”

Hannah Hawkins and Maria Wittenauer – 

When we think of Martin Luther King Jr., we usually think of his famous “I Have A Dream” speech.  On January 18th, Daleah Goodwin and Joyce Mann introduced the theme of this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. week, which was “Your Life’s Blueprint”.  Daleah Goodwin introduced what that day consisted of, a Speak-In.  She explained that a Speak-In is similar to “walk-ins”, “pray-ins”, “read-ins”, and “teach-ins”. Here are some of the pieces that were delivered.

Renata Gray gave the first speech, entitled “The Purpose of Education.” This speech had a message about the importance of education and the power it can have. It ended with the words “be careful brethren, be careful teachers.” Education is the key to change, and thus it is a very powerful thing.

Professor Alonzo Ward gave the next speech, called “Rediscovering Lost Values,” which King delivered in 1954. This speech described some of the struggles that minorities faced at the time. King said that the trouble is that we seem to be “not good enough.” People have “not learned how to be kind and true and loving.” The speech touched on the topic of morality. King said that “this is a moral universe,” and that “things aren’t bad as long as they don’t put them before God.” He stated that reality depends on morality.

Karen Dean presented Dr. King’s “When Peace Becomes Obnoxious” from 1956.  This speech talked about how the University of Alabama had admitted Autherine Lucy, the first black female student, into the school.  As soon as she walked on campus, she received multiple threats from white students.  Alabama then passed a law saying that they couldn’t prevent the hate that was coming from the white students and the state could not help her.  King later goes on to say that “Peace is not merely the absence of some negative force- war, tension, confusion, but it is the presence of some positive force – justice, goodwill, the power of the Kingdom of God”.

Dr. Chris Oldenburg delivered “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” which King delivered in 1963. Oldenburg included an introduction about the good rhetorical effect that MLK used in this speech, including the periodic sentence to create emphasis. He said “But when you have seen…,” going on to describe the horrors that had been occurring. Some particularly effective phrases that King included were “degenerating sense of nobodiness” and “legitimate and unavoidable impatience,” referring to the injustice that was felt at the time.

President Farley delivered King’s “Eulogy for the Martyred Children.”  This eulogy was given for four young girls, Addie Mae Collins, Carol Denise McNair, Cynthia Diane Wesley, and Carole Robertson, who were killed in a church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963.  King spoke about how the girls were in “safe security of stained glass windows”.  He also says that “they did not die in vain” and that the people should not despair, and how “the spilled blood of these innocent girls may cause the whole citizenry of Birmingham to transform the negative extremes of a dark past into the positive extremes of a bright future.”

Hyelharra Banu delivered King’s “Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech” from 1964. King included some strong phrases that depict the mentality that lead him to win the prize, like “I refuse to accept despair” and “conditional love will have the final word in reality.”

Squire Prince presented “Our God is Marching On” in 1965.  King quotes a woman’s response to a bus driver after a boycott, “My feet is tired, but my soul is rested”.  King also says “We are not about to turn around; we are on the move now”.  This speech was given after his famous march from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery.  He describes how their faces were red and burnt from the sun; some people actually slept in the mud and walked through the pouring rain.  King closes with the moving line, “His truth is marching on”.

Andrew Jones delivered the last speech of the day, and the last speech of King’s life, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” delivered the day before he was assassinated in 1968. In the speech, he pays attention to fixing this world; he says to pay attention to attaining heaven, but not just heaven. He says to “make the first item on your agenda fair treatment.” He goes on to the section that became the title: “I’ve been to the mountaintop, and I don’t mind.” Some of his words are a chilling prediction of his fate and the mark he left on the world; “I may not get there with you. . .but we as a people will make it to the promised land.”


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